June 17, 2013

The Populist

My mother took me out for an early birthday celebration this weekend, to any place of my choosing.  I chose The Populist.

I've been curious about the Populist for some time now, and **bonus** it's really close to home.  I was hesitant at first, since the reviews I've read suggest a bit of awkwardness and the possibly-can-go-wrong "communal seating."

Not so!  Although I wouldn't have chosen an inside table on such a fine weather evening anyway, the inside was too loud and I wanted to be able to talk to my mother.  I knew that the seating was shared, but if anything, it made the environment more welcoming.  I think I was worried that I wouldn't be able to have serious discussion, but we did.  And it was fine.

We sat between to two groups of diners, one of which was very engaging, yet not invasive.  They chose the same seven course tasting menu for two option that we did, but just a few minutes ahead of us.  This way, we got a preview of what was to come and we were treated to the gentleman's review of each dish, which was charming!

I hadn't thought to take pictures at first, especially since the owner was serving the group on our other side and I embarrass easily.  But since our reviewer neighbor was snapping shots, I felt more comfortable joining in on the fun.

In general, the crowd was mixed.  I've heard the "too hipster" criticism several times, the restaurant being located in North Larimer and at least partially owned by the Crema guy.  Well, hmm.  My mother and I were both quite comfortable there.  And it's really all about the food, isn't it?

We ordered our tasting menu gluten-free and for the first time in recent memory, it was a non-issue.  Every time I eat with my gluten-free mom, it seems the server or kitchen forgets and we have to stay on top of it.  This time, we could just sit back and relax and enjoy the dishes as they came.  Having dealt with various eating restrictions for most of my life, it is a real treat to mention it once and be done with it.

Now, I am going to try and remember what we ate...

We started with a fabulous Bar Mix, a curried Chex, fried chick pea, popcorn, and dried apricot combination.  If you ever want to ply me with food, apricots are a good place to begin.  We moved on to a cold cucumber soup with coconut milk, and some lovely texture from an ingredient I've forgotten and Marcona almonds.  I could eat that all day.  Forever.  We then settled into the meal with a lovely kale salad served over chèvre and tossed with a harissa vinaigrette.  Dried cherries, too!  What is it?  Everything-my-heart-desires dinner?  The fourth was a poached egg on toast with sweet caramelized onion and bacon jam.  Delicious.  There was something else, too. Like more bacon.  No.  Lardon!

Then a palette refresher of red pepper sorbet, sweet, but toned down with olive oil and cilantro, and quite good. Have I mentioned my normal distaste for the ominous bell pepper?  But I loved this!  The next was a dish of perfectly seared scallops with a white bean pureehabañero jelly, and house-made chorizo.  And cilantro crema and spicy chips.  Our server gave us the appropriate warning about the heat, but it was well-balanced like everything else.

Our main dish, being gluten-free this evening, was steak with fries, with chimichurri, greens, and shaved turnips. Perfect, even for this newly-not-vegetarian eater.  And turnips.  So good.  Eat them.

Sounds like enough food, right?  It certainly was and I even sacrificed the tiniest bit of the steak we took home to my very deserving (and cute) cat.  She appreciated it.

But even after all of the that, we were still treated to a lovely dessert of buttermilk panna cotta with fresh strawberries and mint.  A dash of aged sherry vinegar added just the right balance of tartness to the creamy panna cotta and left us with a full and balanced meal.

And considering the staggering amount of food we ate, the wine we drank, and the good time had by all, the price was a really good deal.

All and all, a wonderful meal on a wonderful evening.  Thank you to The Populist for being just what we needed here in northeast Denver - an opportunity, an upgrade, a renewal, if you will.  I always appreciate great service, which we had, along with great company.  As I embark on my mid-thirties, this is the type of meal that makes me think these will be the best years yet.

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